Who is Ajay TG? Political arrests and the tightening noose

Ajay T G, film-maker, arrested: PUCL statement

Update May 12, 2008: PUDR condemnation statement, Petition of solidarity

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) strongly condemns the arrest of Ajay TG, widely recognized film maker, journalist and human rights activist by the Chhattisgarh police in Raipur on 4 May 2008 and calls for his immediate release.

The fact that Mr. Ajay T G has been detained under the Anti-democratic draconian law i.e. The Chhattisgarh State Public Security Act 2005, it is obvious that the State Police is following its repressive policy to brand human rights activists/organizat ions as “terrorists” involved in “unlawful activities”. As per their admission to the press, the State Police has no evidence against Ajay TG except what it claims to be a letter purportedly written by him to a Maoist leader.

PUCL has strong grounds to believe that Ajay is being victimized for his human rights work as an active member of our organization and against which the Chhattisgarh government is carrying out a systematic campaign of vilification and victimization. There is a deliberate attempt by the State Government to spread falsehoods against human rights organizations, and “branding” PUCL. PUCL believes that the framing in false case of Ajay T G, a member of the State Executive Committee of Chhattisgarh Unit of PUCL, is also linked with the failure of the prosecution to establish any fact during the Trial in Dr. Binayak Sen’s case, held from 30th April to May 3, 2008.

It may be re-called that Dr. Binayak Sen, General Secretary, Chhattisgarh PUCL & Vice-President of National PUCL has been illegally detained since May 14, 2007 for his alleged support to the Communist Party of India (Maoists). However, those witnessing the Trial proceedings in the Court of Sri B S Saluja, Additional District & Sessions Judge, Raipur, are of the unanimous opinion that none of the six witnesses produced by the prosecution could establish an iota of evidence in the case. On the contrary, one witness was declared ‘hostile’ by the prosecution, and three of them openly declared that they had made no statement to the police to this effect. They also did not identify any of the three accused present in the Court, including Dr. Binayak Sen.

Ajay T G is the second member of the PUCL-Chhattisgarh to be arrested so far, the first being Dr Binayak Sen, well known humanitarian doctor, having recently won the prestigious Dr. Jonathan Mann Award for 2007 for Global Health & Human Rights.

It may be recalled that prior to his arrest Ajay TG was un-necessarily and deliberately dragged into a controversy by the police at Raipur on 30 April, the first day of Dr Sen’s trial when they discovered a Swiss pen-knife like, tool kit, in his bag. He was unaware that he was carrying it and innocently had brought it into the court room. The police then presented him as a “fraud media person”, although Mr. Ajay T G apologized in writing to the concerned Court for this “human error”, and gave the facts of the case. The hon’ble Court accepted the apology, and no action was taken against him.

Several news papers that evening and next morning carried sensational reports of him and the Swiss knife, ridiculously stating that the PUCL State Executive Member had come with a “modern, deadly and dangerous weapon”. It is clear that Ajay’s detention is a measure of desperation on the part of the Chhattisgarh authorities, who are running out of excuses to harass and suppress human rights activists. .

As a film maker Ajay TG has worked on numerous projects as director, cameraman, and editor and is also an accomplished graphic artist. Some of his films that have been screened at festivals abroad include ‘Living Memory’, screened at A Season of South Asian Documentaries and Films, Cambridge, UK; ‘Safar’ screened at Sheffield International Film Festival, Sheffield, UK and ‘The Last Shelter’ screened at Royal Anthropological institute Film Festival, London, UK. Since 1994 Ajay T G has also assisted Professor Jonathan Parry — a world renowned social anthropologist at London School of Economics and Political Science– in his research on industrialization in Bhilai. Since September 2005 Ajay has been Director of Drksakshi (www.drksakshi. org), a voluntary organization providing a dignified educational environment for young girls from extremely impoverished families in an urban slum in Bhilai. He is currently also State Convener for Campaign Against Child Labour and Treasurer of the All India Youth Federation, Chhattisgarh. PUCL appeals to all human rights and democratic organizations/ individuals to strongly condemn this repressive act of the Chhattisgarh Government, and express solidarity and support in defending the well recognized Media person & human rights activist.

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Who Is Ajay T. G?

Ajay was born in Kerala and grew up there in a large extended family of women and children presided over by one of his father¹s brothers. His father and the other brothers had left to find work elsewhere. One settled in Bhilai in 1959 where he began by selling tea and then started a ‘dosa-idli hotel’ at Powerhouse, one of the main market areas of Bhilai. He was followed at intervals by his other brothers. After several years in Sri Lanka, Ajay¹s father arrived in 1969 and subsequently began a small poultry farm, which was wound up in 1991.

Under pressure from his father, Ajay left formal education after tenth class and took a succession of jobs in the industrial belt around Bhilai, the longest lasting of them being that of Licensing Agent. During this time he was actively involved in the All India Youth Federation and became its District Secretary, District President and State Vice President. In 1993 he met Jonathan Parry, Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics, by chance in the waiting room of the Bhilai Steel Plant and shortly afterwards was employed by him as research assistant on a project concerned with industrialisation in the area. This led to a subsequent job as research assistant for a PhD student from University of Iowa, Balmurli Natrajan, who was working on craft industry in the Durg-Bhilai belt. With both pieces of on-going he research he has remained closely associated ever since; and during the course of both he has been in charge of making an archive of still photographs. Several of his photos have been published with Jonathan Parry¹s work and some have been publicly exhibited in London.

The link with Professor Parry led to Ajay being consulted about a proposal for a media project known as Images in Social Change or Jandarshan which was successfully submitted for funding to the EU-India Economic Cross Cultural Programme. The project, managed by its European and Indian partner organisations, included a digital video training project based in Bhilai and supervised by the Indian partner, the Deshbandhu Newspaper. Ajay became co-ordinator of the training unit, a job he did while also enrolled in the diploma course as a student. At thirty-four he was much older than the other students and came with a range of experience. After obtaining his diploma, Ajay worked with the Raipur based Jandarshan for six months and then left to do further research for a book by Balmurli Natrajan and to develop and shoot a related film. (From http://www.fieldtof actory.lse. ac.uk/TraineeBio gs/AjayBiog. htm) He also acquired his own video equipment and began to make independent documentaries.

In September 2005 Ajay started an organization that is now registered since January 2006 as Drksakshi (www.drksakshi. org ) which is primarily designed to provide a dignified educational environment for young girls from extremely impoverished families who live in an urban slum in Bhilai, and which also provides a nutritious mid-day meal for 25 girls currently. Ajay has been the Director (very irregularly paid) of this organization which also works on generating a livelihood for the older students. Over a period of barely 2 years, Ajay has almost single handedly changed the complexion of this slum (approx. 150 households) by winning the trust of the residents who now are willing to send their girls to school regularly. By providing the nutritious meal and regular health check-ups, Ajay and his small team at Drksakshi have given back some dignity and positive vision to all the children.

Over recent years Ajay has also been actively involved in the PUCL movement and in The Campaign against Child Labour.